As a passionate all round angler, incoming Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook has been keen to see some of the great work achieved with member clubs and anglers. Where better to visit than the idyllic Pinnock Lake, where Wimbourne and District Angling Club have turned an abandoned pool into a thriving tench and crucian fishery? Hugh Miles, Chris Yates and Martin Salter were on hand to wet a line with him and share some secrets of a successful project, as Angling Trust blogger Dominic Garnett reports.
Of all the ways to welcome a new managing director, I can’t think of many more tantalising than today’s trip to a crucian carp lake. Forget office drinks or suited and booted prelims; we are here to celebrate with lily pads, maggots and, hopefully, some beautiful tench and crucian carp.
Regular blog readers may remember last season’s special report on the excellent Pinnock Lake, a labour of love for the members of Wimbourne DAC, boosted by star Crucian Conservation Project supporters including Hugh Miles, Chris Yates and Mr Crucian Carp himself, Peter Rolfe. With a dedicated core of well-directed volunteers, alongside support from the Angling Trust Angling Improvement Fund and Environment Agency specialists, the lake is the very picture of hope on a late summer’s morning.
A warm welcome to our new signing
With reports that the crucians have not only packed on weight since last season, but successfully spawned, our anglers tackle up with a special relish. However, before a single hook is baited it’s only fitting that we give Jamie an appropriate welcome- and who better to do this than two of his angling heroes? In fact, it was at the tender age of eleven, in the heyday of A Passion for Angling that Jamie first met Chris on the Hampshire Avon- an experience that he treasures.
In typical fashion, Chris is last to the party this morning. “Trust Yates to be fashionably late again!” says Hugh. “I actually woke far too early, at four in the morning,” Chris protests. “But then, when I was meant to wake up, I didn’t even hear the alarm!”
Chris still lives in the same pretty village where the little pond from A Passion for Angling still exists; although a group of horses waded through it recently, making an almighty mess of the clay lining. It also turns out that, randomly, Jamie drove right past his door earlier. “Next time, perhaps you could wake Chris up on the way through?” says Hugh.
Without further ado, Jamie is presented with his new Angling Trust shirt. I wonder if our angling legends have any words of wisdom to go with it?
“Get yourself a tin hat, preferably a thick one!” suggests Chris, before correcting himself: “No, seriously, many congratulations, it’ll be a breeze!”
Raking into action
With the pleasantries done, we’re all set for an enjoyable little session on the lake, but who will be the one to catch that first crucian? I wouldn’t bet against Hugh Miles, who loves these golden fish. He’s already busy with a little weed clearance; and his long handled rake is so much less messy than hoofing one in on the end of a chain. It’s a classic trick and, as Hugh explains- “it’s amazing just how quickly the fish will come in to investigate, even after all that disturbance.” He’s modest in clearing a patch to fish, however: “sometimes it’s hard to convince the angler, but weed is so important. It encourages recruitment, for one thing.”
Like Martin Salter, Hugh will fish a modern elasticated pole for fine presentation at close range. Jamie, however, is more in the Chris Yates mould as he digs out a favourite old float rod and centrepin reel. “There’s always something nice about tackle with personal history” he says.
As a coarse angler originally who has evolved into a genuine all rounder, I’m intrigued to hear how we shared much of the same stomping ground at one point, as he studied in Exeter, fishing the likes of Shobrooke Park and the River Exe. Angling is in his blood and his family are angling mad.
“There are pictures of my dad fishing while I’m in a pushchair” he smiles. I’m also impressed to hear that his mum caught her PB barbel while eight and a half months pregnant!
This morning, the first fish are nowhere near PB status, but somehow just as important because they represent hope for the future. Bold bites lead to delightful little tench –and then a lovely little crucian- which clearly show that the fish here are breeding successfully.
Ideas for a brighter fishing future…
Although it will be another couple of months before Jamie is set to become full time boss of the Angling Trust (such is his past success, you get the feeling his outgoing employers are reluctant to let go of him!), he has already been listening to anglers of all kinds and thinking hard about the future. In particular I’m interested to hear his perspective on how drastically fishing is changing in today’s digital world.
“We’ve got a lot to learn – and I think there’s a lot we can pick up from other sports” he says. “There’s the same appetite to fish with so many of us, but life is getting faster and sessions are getting shorter. This could well be why lure fishing is flourishing? Look at other sports and you’ll see how they’ve adapted to time pressures; from 6 hole golf to 20:20 cricket.”
In his own day to day life, like my own, it’s certainly the case that quicker sessions and methods are important. It’s so easy to stow a fly or spinning rod ready to go, for even the smallest window of oppurtunity.
“Angling is still an affordable sport that cuts right across different social divides” he says, “but we can make a lot more of its positive qualities, I believe, from its accessibility to all through to the effect on wellbeing. A lot of it is about about finding what the barriers are to participation and adapting to people’s needs and lifestyles.”
As a hard-working parent, like Jamie, I can totally see this battle. As Jamie acknowledges, there are certain parts of the population, for example retirees, who still have plenty of time. But with those from their twenties to forties, who are today’s workers, parents and trend setters, it’s a very different battle.
Jamie is definitely encouraged by the work of the participation team of the Angling Trust, however, as well as projects such as the very lake we are fishing on. “There are so many great things that the Trust do that people just don’t hear about” he says. “From big projects to inspirational people, there’s a massive amount of good work that deserves more recognition.”
Jamie is already raring to go on the many ways that he hopes to help angling grow. Our conversation spans topics from improving the benefits of membership, to the power of digital media to unite or divide people. I’m also impressed with his credentials as exactly the type of all-rounder you would want in the Trust’s new boss. He is a highly accomplished coarse and specimen carp angler, but enjoys everything from casting lures at sea to a spot of fly fishing- although with the latter he admits his casting could use some work! He’s certainly not short on ideas or energy and, suffice to say, it will be exciting to see what Jamie’s tenure brings to the Angling Trust.
We’re all pleased to see so many smaller tench and crucians snaffling the bait, but it’s only a matter of time before something bigger shows up. It’s Hugh Miles who gives the first urgent call of “I think I’ve hooked something bigger”!
It is indeed a proper net-fish, in the form of a lovely tench of two-pounds or so. A fitting result, seeing as Hugh –alongside his club colleagues- has been so committed to this project since its inception.
Better still, just minutes later comes a crucian carp- and not just a baby, but a pretty half-pounder. It seems nuts to think that this fish was just a fingerling last year! Nor is this lake alone, thanks to Calverton Fish Farm breeding several thousand to help lakes across the country, backed by EA rod licence funds.
“We are so pleased with this lake, it’s a great reward for all the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes” says Hugh. “The growth rates are phenomenal- and we’re already getting pound plus crucians now! It’s a great example of what can happen when a fishing club works closely with the Angling Trust.”
He’s also keen to single out some of the club’s stalwarts for special praise. “We’re lucky to have a core of passionate, dedicated people at the club who made this project happen” he tells me. “Folks like our inspiring Club Secretary Stuart Hitchman, tireless volunteers such as Nigel Taylor and of course Nick Lawrie, who is not only the lake’s bailiff, but digger driver, shed builder and everything else. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Not to be outdone on the crucian front, Martin Salter is next. Another stalwart of the Crucian Conservation Project, our veteran angling campaigner is naturally delighted to land his own “true cru”! This also starts a bit of a bait war, however, as conclusions emerge and bits of bread, secret pastes and some really manky casters are passed up and down the bank in a kind of crucian arms race! But who will land the next golden wonder?
Catching up with Chris Yates
In the midst of all the catching –and missing bites- of crucians and tench, it’s an absolute pleasure to spend an idle half hour with Chris Yates. He is always simultaneously dedicated and yet the most completely laid back of anglers, not to mention best of company. His punctuality might be questionable at times, but his deep love of nature and enthusiasm for fishing never wane. Nor is he ever short of insight or opinion.
He loves the “new” lake, but isn’t so sure about fishing platforms, full stop (“can you tell Jamie to ban fishing platforms, or perhaps take them all back to IKEA?”). As for baiting strategies, Yates is both master and wild speculator. The manky aforementioned casters are his own specials. They are a little out of date, to put it politely, and liberally slathered in mild curry powder. A delicacy hopefully not coming to a takeaway near you soon!
I must admit, I’ve always wondered if this makes any difference? Chris is convinced, however. “Oh, I’m sure there’s something in it!” he says. “Especially on lakes where fish see lots of standard baits. In fact, I’ve had so many of my best tench catches on curried bait.” It’s also most amusing to see him negotiating with the regulars to snaffle a handful of maggots off a teenager. As our other anglers quickly point out, it’s supposed to be the youngster rather than the experienced head delivering the “got any spare maggots?” line.
Both maggots and casters seem to work- and it’s refreshing to see the man who once laid claim the biggest carp in Britain still celebrating small fish with complete relish. With several captures on the same maggot, though, I’m wondering if Chris is getting lazy? Not a bit of it.
“As the crucian master Peter Rolfe will tell you, the fish don’t mind a slightly chewed bait- or a ‘popular’ maggot as he would put it!” Five little fish are landed on the same very sorry looking bait, just to prove the point.
Chris is always wonderfully lucid in conversation beside the water, whether the topic is tench, birds of prey, or music. He offers me congratulations as a new parent, along with the wisdom you might expect from a dad of four. On the subject of politics, he is as amusing as ever, too, comparing today’s characters of various political hues to various types of fish in their slipperiness and deceit. In fact, the conversation is so engrossing, we miss a few of the next bites.
As for today’s world of fake news and outrage, and the future of fishing, Chris has a cautionary note or two. To me at least, part of Chris Yates’ enduring popularity is that his gentle eccentricity is so completely at odds with today’s shout now, think later world.
“Angling has to tread so carefully these days” he says. “People are so quick to judge and react, and we really don’t need the public against us.” Although Chris has always been shy of politics and loud opinions, he would like to see a more liberal and inclusive angling, which shows anglers as the best of allies to the natural world.
“I wish Jamie all the best. He seems like one of the good guys and has bags of energy. He’ll need it! I hope he gets to assert his vision.”
It’s certainly a great way to welcome the new boss and by the end of our session there are plenty of tench and crucians in the net. Just as yesterday’s simple idea and some hard work have led to a beautiful lake, these modest fish are sure to grow into tomorrow’s net-fillers. We can only wish Jamie the same success as he brings his commitment to grow the sport he loves so much, as head of the Angling Trust.